Letter: University theology must be based on Religious Truth

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The Independent Online
Sir: The controversy between Professor Ward and Dr Dawkins is tiresomely predictable, but it is none the less sad to find the Regius Professor of Divinity at Newman's university denying that theologians teach facts.

'Religious Truth,' Newman wrote - not religious speculation, not religious hypotheses, not this religious view as compared with that, but Religious Truth - 'is not only a portion, but a condition of general knowledge. To blot it out is nothing short . . . of unravelling the web of University Teaching.' Is Professor Ward maintaining that the Divinity he professes has no more than a hypothesis as its object?

The question is whether an educated and informed mind at the present time can hold, as a matter of fact, that in 'the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking 'Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?' '

That there were three such wise men, that they were kings, that they subsequently migrated to Cologne is clearly myth, an expression in image and story of the popular faith of early and later Christians. The Nativity narratives, however, have a different character. They make truth assertions about real times and places. If the evangelists had wanted us to believe they were parables, they could have written them as such - the form was one with which they were quite familiar. They did not. Are they credible? In spite of having read a lot of Dr Dawkins, and even more liberal theology from Strauss to Cupitt, I find them so.

The prayer to the Magi which Evelyn Waugh puts into the mind of his (entirely fictional) Helena may be a propos: 'For His sake who did not reject your curious gifts, pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate. Let them not be quite forgotten at the Throne of God when the simple come into their kingdom.'

Yours faithfully,



28 December